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Charlotte-area teachers head for Raleigh protest

A busload of teachers from Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties is headed for the final Moral Monday rally in Raleigh today.

This is the first organized participation by area educators, though some individuals have taken part in the previous 12 protests, which brought thousands to the state capital and led to 925 civil disobedience arrests. First-time and veteran protesters said they’re spurred by a budget passed last week that gives no raises to teachers and other state employees, phases out tenure and pay for advanced degrees, cuts teacher assistants and shifts public money to private-school vouchers.

“What’s already a tough job is being made harder by financial constraints,” said Andrew Shimko, who just finished his first year as a teacher at Independence High. “I worry about the future of North Carolina’s public education.”

The N.C. Association of Educators put out a call last Wednesday for members to join the Moral Monday event; organizers say they expect about 2,500 educators to attend. The 55-seat bus chartered by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators left uptown Charlotte shortly after noon, with a stop in Cabarrus County ahead to pick up more protesters. Among the riders are Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Chairman Mary McCray and member Joyce Waddell, both retired teachers.

Ruth Scherr of Charlotte, a school volunteer, also joined the group. She said her family moved to North Carolina from New Zealand because of its reputation for good K-12 and higher education.

“If we were moving today, we would never move to Charlotte,” she said.

Scherr said cuts to education not only hurt schools but make it harder for educators to earn a decent living.

“I am beyond appalled at what the legislature has done,” she said. “We have created this whole class of people called the working poor. The group is getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Mattie McLean Jain, a recently retired teacher, said someone accused the group of protesting only when Republicans took charge of the state legislature, even though teacher pay was frozen and the state slipped in national rankings when Democrats were in charge. But Jain said she’s taken part in protests led by NCAE for at least six years.

“The difference is the Democrats didn’t arrest us so you didn’t hear about it,” she said.

Civil disobedience and arrests are not expected today, with the legislature adjourned.

The Moral Monday movement is led by the N.C. NAACP, which has convened a coalition of activist groups, houses of worship and others concerned about the legislature’s stands on social justice issues ranging from voting rights to unemployment compensation. After this week the mass gatherings in Raleigh will end, though organizers want to see coalitions continue to work on the issues at the local level.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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